Bluefin tuna fishing – How to rig a flying fish bait

A RATHER RATTY FLYER rigged for action. Even this second-round freezer-flyer killed a triple digit bluefin tuna for us on the Game Changer this past week. These bluefin never even looked at our chummed sardines while foaming on tiny anchovy and the only popper fish hooked was snagged in the side.


Years ago, perhaps while underway, sometimes while drifting we’d hear a huge crash out on deck, then go check out what the heck had happened, just to discover a flying fish stunned and still, lying there.

It was a point of curiosity for sure. Somehow it was always decided to set the thing upside down on the bait tank, “wings” set straight out in flight position. Come morning the stiffened fish would be flight tested on deck, like a glider.

But in today’s fishing world, such a waste of a valuable resource would be unthinkable – the most prime big bluefin bait there is.


Bluefin habituated to feeding on all matter of microbait, squid para-lavae, cutlassfish and snake mackerels down deep will break from that pattern to play cat-toy with a surface-riding flyer.

From the ever-cautious bluefin’s perspective, a flying fish suspended from the sky by heavy tackle has such gear obscured above the waterline.

The physics behind such a presentation, keeping it riding right on the surface given the ever-varying dynamics of waves and wind relies on the big bait’s density approximating that of the water is sits on.

In the water, that bait weighs near nothing, perhaps just slightly negative in buoyancy. But in the air, its weight becomes orders of magnitude greater, so just like the boat, it rides the surface waves, bouncing around when rigged properly, pulling the bend in the kite/balloon line it’s suspended by down and releasing it as needed.

Rigging the bait itself – what you’ll need is a few light hibachi skewers and a handful of the smallest zip-ties. The skewer and ties are to hold the “wings” out.

Jab the skewer sideways through the flyer just where the upper edge of the wings meet the body of the bait. Pull the wings out and zip-tie them to the skewer about 2 to 2.5 inches out.

You want to secure the first two fin rays with the zip-ties, while attempting to get the front edge of the wings to sit under the skewer.

Snip the ends of the zip-ties close. Break off excess skewer about a half-inch past each tie.

The Harness – basically a 5-foot, 300-pound leader with a very large big game J-hook with a gap the same width as the bait. Attached to this is a second “stinger” hook, either a massive treble large enough the spread between any two barbs is the width of the bait, or a second J-hook similar to the first.

The distance between the two should be about 4 inches. The main hook goes cross-ways through the top, back edge of the gill opening, as high as it can be set there. Hold that hook straight up and pull the stinger back, noting where the bend of the hook is on the bait. That’s where you want to stick it – cross-ways for a J or straight in for a treble.

All harness components are to be crimped. It’s important to be sure the stinger connection sits behind the front hook connection when placing the front hook.

Done properly, you won’t be able to see the hooks or harness from the bottom side of the flyer, and perhaps just barely see a small portion of the skewer, closest to the body.

Rigging the kite – typically a kite or kite/balloon combo is fished on two rods – a kite rod with 100-pound braid and main rod with the leader on 130. The kite line will have a small loop tied about 80 feet down to which a release can be snapped.

An electric reel like Daiwa’s Tanacom 1000 is super helpful as a kite reel. It allows one to simply push a button and have the kite wind into the release and stop automatically, and it’s also an arm saver.

Be sure to strap the kite rod down into the rod holder so it doesn’t fly off in heavy winds. The classic square fishing kites come with instructions and AFTCO makes a good one. Other spar-less designs don’t facilitate attaching a balloon but will fly in a slightly wider range of wind conditions without one.

The balloon-kite combo is what you see the most of out on the water, because it’s the most versatile and flies in greatest range of conditions.

The balloon should be big enough and inflated full enough to be roughly the same diameter as the kite is wide. Once filled and zip-tied closed, it gets attached by the pucker to the back of the kite at the center, capturing both cross-pieces with a second zip-tie. For this, the ties with the screw holes are most convenient to use, but you should be able to figure out a working method using other tools too.

Next, a loop of braid is attached to the top two corners of said kite and over the top of the balloon, holding it to the top edge of the kite. Electrical tape is used to secure the line in place on the balloon.

Setting the kite and bait out can be tricky, the kite tends to want to “hide” behind the cabin of big boats, rather than catch the wind and go. Having two people handling the various parts is helpful – getting the bait clear and overboard, running a reel. But with practice, it can be a one-person job.

Coordinating the flow of both reels’ line together is tricky, but the best advice without getting too technical with stuff is to try to keep the bait skipping along the surface as things go out.

But before any of this, you’ll have to have launched the kite, let line out to the loop, attached the release, clipped the main line in and set the release tension. I like to set it stiff, so stiff that you often have to release it by hand mid-fight once the kite is back into the loop.

This allows the line to tighten up enough to partially set the hooks, long before it pops from the release and lets out a massive loop of slack.

As the lines go out, the kite will ride low. Once you stop the kite line, the kite will rise and you’ll need to keep letting out additional main line for a bit more. It all takes time, time while you’re watching fish foam and hoping they stay up – no googans come to run them down and choke while casting crap they’ll never bite.

Look for more in upcoming issues on fishing a kite-bait on breaking fish – the primary strategy – and variants like fishing the balloon alone on a single line, rod and reel.

I first reported on kite-fishing tuna out of Puerto Vallarta long before and suggested fishing the then-new influx of big bluefin this way, too. Today there are a ton of local guys like Capt. Ryan Stahl out there with a lot more experience than I. Fish with one these pros, watch, and soak it all in.



Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He serves on the Groundfish Advisory sub-Panel of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Santa Barbara Harbor Commission, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the CCA-Cal State Board. He can be reached at:


A RATHER RATTY FLYER rigged for action. Even this second-round freezer-flyer killed a triple digit bluefin tuna for us on the Game Changer this past week. These bluefin never even looked at our chummed sardines while foaming on tiny anchovy and the only popper fish hooked was snagged in the side.